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Baseball returns in…

Two months.

Today is February 16. Opening Night at BB&T Ballpark is April 16.

With those two months to go, the ballpark is buzzing with activity, as is Glendale, Ariz., the site of White Sox Spring Training.

Sox pitchers and catchers will report to Spring Training on Friday, while the first full-team workout is next Tuesday, February 24.

There are many former Winston-Salem stars who will be focal points of Spring Training, whether they are trying to grab the attention of the big league club or even attempting to break camp with the team. Scott Merkin, the excellent beat writer on WhiteSox.com, compiled a list of potential impact prospects for the club in 2015. Through this list, it is very clear that the White Sox farm system is the strongest it has been in several years.

The impact from some of those players will come within the Minor Leagues, but Jim Callis expands upon those who could register important time in Chicago.

Carlos Sanchez will need to rely on his glove in order to overcome Micah Johnson and win the White Sox second base spot (Steve Orcutt/W-S Dash).

Carlos Sanchez will need to rely on his glove in order to overcome Micah Johnson and win the White Sox second base spot (Steve Orcutt/W-S Dash).

Second base is the most important and intriguing Spring Training battle, and it likely features a pair of former Winston-Salem studs. Carlos Sanchez and Micah Johnson are about as even as two young players can be at this stage in regards to a starting slot in the big leagues. Both are within the top 10 of every White Sox prospect list. Both have skills that tantalize and flaws that worry the White Sox.

If you are a fan of defense, then Sanchez is the candidate for you. However, if you are looking for offensive upside, Johnson will gain your vote. It will be a fascinating debate that may stretch into April.

Both of those men have already reported to Glendale, along with some other notable names. Per this report from Dan Hayes of CSN Chicago, around 25 players have already arrived to Spring Training.

This group includes left-hander Carlos Rodon, who has already been in Glendale for more than a week, Courtney Hawkins, Jared Mitchell, Keenyn Walker and reigning American League Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu.

The vibes around the organization are as positive and optimistic as they have been in the last few years, and the fun begins in Arizona shortly.

Stay tuned to the blog for more updates as Spring Training rolls along.

– Brian

FutureSox recognizes 18 former Dash stars

Carlos Rodon is the White Sox top prospect, per FutureSox.com (Jody Stewart/W-S Dash)

Carlos Rodon is the White Sox top prospect, per FutureSox.com (Jody Stewart/W-S Dash)

With Spring Training quickly approaching, the writers at FutureSox have compiled their Top 30 White Sox prospects, 18 of whom have played in Winston-Salem at some point.

The 2014 version of the Dash boasted 11 of the top 30, including four of the Sox five best prospects, per FutureSox. The full countdown and a description of each farmhand are available here (1-15) and here (16-30).

Here are the 18 Dash alumni on the list, with the members of the 2014 roster in italics.

1. LHP Carlos Rodon
2. INF Tim Anderson
3. RHP Frank Montas
5. RHP Tyler Danish
6. INF Micah Johnson
7. OF Courtney Hawkins
8. INF Carlos Sanchez
9. INF Trey Michalczewski
11. RHP Chris Beck
14. OF Jacob May
15. INF Cleuluis Rondon
16. INF Tyler Saladino
17. OF Trayce Thompson
20. INF Keon Barnum
21. C Kevan Smith
24. OF Adam Engel
27. INF Andy Wilkins
28. RHP Mike Recchia

A few thoughts:

  • It should come as no surprise that Rodon checks in as the top prospect. He will almost certainly be atop every White Sox prospect list in advance of the 2015 season. Last week, MLBPipeline.com named Rodon the second-best southpaw prospect in the Minors.
  • This time last season, both Danish and Montas were viewed as prospects, but not as the elite-level Minor League arms that they became in 2014. In Winston-Salem last year, the duo combined to go 9-3 with a 2.23 earned run average in 28 starts. There are still doubters, but both men continue to climb the Minor League ladder and collect more believers.
  • Michalczewski figures to be the highest-ranked prospect to begin the 2015 season with the Dash. After enjoying significant success in Low-A Kannapolis, the White Sox sent the 19-year-old to Winston-Salem. Michalczewski hit just .194 in 19 games, but he did show some flashes of his noticeable talent, including his three-hit, three-RBI showing in that playoff-like final home Friday game against Carolina.
  • Another likely returnee is Rondon, who continues to wow people with his glove. He held his own at the plate in Winston-Salem (.247) over 53 games, the majority of which featured him in the two-hole.
  • It is great to see someone like Recchia on this list. The former Minor League free agent zoomed through CL offenses before jumping to Double-A Birmingham, where he performed well. His story is fascinating. His personality is great. Now, his status as a true prospect in the system is starting to show.

The Dash’s 2015 season begins in exactly 70 days. Stay tuned for more information as Opening Day approaches.

– Brian

The other side of the Samardzija trade

Most White Sox fans are thrilled about the proceedings at the Winter Meetings. The Sox have been the “it” team of the week thus far by signing Yankees closer David Robertson and trading for Oakland righty Jeff Samardzija.

Within the latter of those two transactions, the White Sox had to surrender some significant talent. On behalf of the entire Dash organization, I would like to wish good luck to the four players included in the blockbuster deal: right-handed pitcher Chris Bassitt, catcher Josh Phegley and infielders Rangel Ravelo and Marcus Semien.

All four of these players spent a significant amount of time in Winston-Salem and were tremendous both on and off the field. Even though they are no longer members of the White Sox system, I hope Dash and Sox fans continue to root for them in Oakland.

Here are some thoughts from Twitter as this deal came to be:

Some players in the White Sox system weighed in as well:

Indeed, good luck to those who are now Athletics. Winston-Salem fans will be tracking your careers.

– Brian

Dash Top 10 – #1: Record crowd watches Fourth of July game

The 2014 season is in the books, and there were many great moments throughout the summer. Here is the full list of the Dash Top 10.

Previous moments:
#10 – Shortest MiLB game in 2014
#9 – DeMichele’s five-hit, five-run effort
#8 – Buckner’s controversial walk-off blast
#7 – Narvaez’s two-homer Dash debut
#6 – Danish tosses six no-hit innings
#5 – Anderson rescues Dash with walk-off homer
#4 – Team names “Big Kev” MVP
#3 – Wendelken overshadows Rodon’s debut
#2 – Bucciferro’s takes no-hitter into ninth

Moment #1 – July 4
8,184 fans watch Fourth of July game

A record crowd of 8,184 enjoyed postgame fireworks on July 4 (Photo via Andrew Dye/Winston-Salem Journal).

A record crowd of 8,184 enjoyed postgame fireworks on July 4 (Photo via Andrew Dye/Winston-Salem Journal).

Even though the Dash did not post a great record, the 2014 season included some fantastic moments, many of which we have rehashed over the last couple of weeks. However, these milestones, awards and records would not have been possible without one important thing…

You.

The Winston-Salem Dash enjoy success, both on and off the field, due to the unending support from the fans. Since moving into BB&T Ballpark in 2010, more than 1.5 million fans have enjoyed Dash baseball here in the Triad. Only one other organization in Class A-Advanced baseball has welcomed more fans during this span than the Dash.

A year ago, a single-game record 7,576 fans took in the Dash’s Fourth of July game, which took place despite a rough weather evening. This year, Winston-Salem residents experienced a picture-perfect Fourth of July weekend.

This weather contributed to an even bigger attendance figure on July 4. For the first time in BB&T Ballpark history, a whopping total of 8,184 spectators watched Wilmington’s 5-0 win over Winston-Salem.

Even though the game did not go the way that Dash fans desired, the atmosphere were electric. The concourses were jam-packed. The place to be in the Triad was BB&T Ballpark, because of both the game and the fireworks.

This community has embraced the Dash organization, and that fact was more evident on July 4 than on any other night.

Thanks to each and every one of you who attended a Dash game in 2014. You are the reason why the Dash recorded another incredibly successful season.

Our Dash Top 10 for 2014 is in the books. Stay tuned for more offseason news and notes here on the Dash Board.

– Brian

Dash Top 10 – #2: Bucciferro’s near no-hitter

The 2014 season is in the books, and there were many great moments throughout the summer. Over the next few weeks, we will count down the Dash Top 10 of 2014.

Previous moments:
#10 – Shortest MiLB game in 2014
#9 – DeMichele’s five-hit, five-run effort
#8 – Buckner’s controversial walk-off blast
#7 – Narvaez’s two-homer Dash debut
#6 – Danish tosses six no-hit innings
#5 – Anderson rescues Dash with walk-off homer
#4 – Team names “Big Kev” MVP
#3 – Wendelken overshadows Rodon’s debut

Moment #2 – July 20
Bucciferro takes no-hit bid into ninth at Frederick

Tony Bucciferro came within two outs of a no-hitter on July 20 at Frederick. (Jody Stewart/W-S Dash)

Tony Bucciferro came within two outs of a no-hitter on July 20 at Frederick. (Jody Stewart/W-S Dash)

“Two outs from glory.”

Those were the final words Tony Bucciferro said to me after a lengthy postgame conversation. Those four words ate at him, a reality that he had not fully digested.

A couple of hours before he uttered those four words, Bucciferro turned in the greatest pitching performance in Dash history. Through eight innings, the right-hander held the Frederick Keys scoreless at Harry Grove Stadium, the only facility that gives BB&T Ballpark a run for its money when discussing the most hitter-friendly Carolina League parks.

Frederick had not put good wood on a Bucciferro pitch through those eight innings. The closest thing to the obligatory “defensive gem” was a foul pop up that Joey DeMichele snagged after a lengthy gallop. It was a great play, but this came against the first batter of the contest, and it was never going to be a hit.

With 96 pitches under his belt and the chance at glory in front of him, Bucciferro took to the hill for the ninth inning. On a 1-2 pitch, he retired nine-hole hitter Jerome Pena with a pop out to second.

All-Star Glynn Davis followed, and his speed prompted third baseman Nick Basto to play on the grass. Davis lashed the first pitch he saw toward Basto, and his glove did not climb high enough to spear the glory-ending single.

The single understandably rattled Bucciferro a bit, and multiple players offered some words of encouragement before squaring off with Adrian Marin. The first pitch, like many of Bucciferro’s throughout this Sunday evening, was located perfectly, and Marin dribbled a double play ball to second.

One pitch after seeing his no-hit bid disappear, Bucciferro completed the only one-hit, nine-inning shutout by a Winston-Salem hurler in the Dash era, which began in 2009. He was two outs shy of the first nine-inning, solo no-no since Bill Kazmierczak turned in the gem on May 20, 1988, against Virginia.

It was a remarkable outing, one that Winston-Salem fans will not soon forget. Even though he did not earn the “glory” that was up for grabs, Bucciferro recorded an outing that is unparalleled in the modern era.

Our top moment of 2014 is on the horizon. What could be better than Bucciferro’s gem? Find out Wednesday!

– Brian

Dash Top 10 – #3: Wendelken overshadows Rodon’s debut

The 2014 season is in the books, and there were many great moments throughout the summer. Over the next few weeks, we will count down the Dash Top 10 of 2014.

Previous moments:
#10 – Shortest MiLB game in 2014
#9 – DeMichele’s five-hit, five-run effort
#8 – Buckner’s controversial walk-off blast
#7 – Narvaez’s two-homer Dash debut
#6 – Danish tosses six no-hit innings
#5 – Anderson rescues Dash with walk-off homer
#4 – Team names “Big Kev” MVP

Moment #3 – July 30
Wendelken steals headlines in Rodon’s Dash debut

J.B. Wendelken set a Dash-era record for strikeouts in a single game. (Jody Stewart/W-S Dash)

J.B. Wendelken set a Dash-era record for strikeouts in a single game. (Jody Stewart/W-S Dash)

One of the top storylines during the Dash’s 2014 season was Carlos Rodon, whom the White Sox drafted third overall in this year’s MLB Draft. After a month-long negotiation process, the two sides agreed to the largest signing bonus in White Sox history.

Rodon entered the Minor Leagues as one of the best collegiate prospects in recent memory, which made him a hot topic. Around this region, Rodon means even more. He is one of the best baseball prospects from the state of North Carolina over the last few decades, and his three-year career at NC State was one of the most decorated in school history.

Thus, Dash fans were very interested in Rodon’s progression through the White Sox system, and it was a quick one. He jumped to Winston-Salem after a pair of outings in the Arizona League, and his Dash debut was set for a Wednesday matinee at BB&T Ballpark.

Before the game, everyone knew that Rodon would pitch an inning out of the bullpen, likely after starter J.B. Wendelken wrapped up his outing. While many fans in attendance were waiting for Rodon, Wendelken stole the show.

One year to the day the White Sox acquired him in the Jake Peavy trade with Boston, Wendelken blitzed the Frederick Keys over seven scoreless innings, during which he whiffed a record-setting 13 batters. In the Dash era, which stretched back to the 2009 season, no pitcher other than Wendelken has struck out more than 11 in a single game.

Rodon entered in the eighth inning and gave up two runs, but he struck out three in the first of four High-A outings for the Holly Springs native, who finished the season in Triple-A. Jefferson Olacio then punched out the side in the ninth to complete a remarkable 12-2 win. In the victory, Winston-Salem struck out 19 of the 27 Keys that the club retired. This is, by far, a Dash-era record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game.

As a result, Wendelken and Rodon shared the headlines after one of the Dash’s most exciting wins of the season. Our second-best moment of 2014 comes up tomorrow, and it also involves Frederick. Stay tuned for that.

– Brian

Dash Top 10 – #4: “Big Kev” named team MVP

The 2014 season is in the books, and there were many great moments throughout the summer. Over the next few weeks, we will count down the Dash Top 10 of 2014.

Previous moments:
#10 – Shortest MiLB game in 2014
#9 – DeMichele’s five-hit, five-run effort
#8 – Buckner’s controversial walk-off blast
#7 – Narvaez’s two-homer Dash debut
#6 – Danish tosses six no-hit innings
#5 – Anderson rescues Dash with walk-off homer

Moment #4 – August 22
Kevin Pearman honored as team MVP

Pearman1We have shared some exciting on-field moments from the 2014 season, and all of them deserve to be here. However, Minor League Baseball, and sports in general, is about more than the game. The people you meet and the relationships you form make these “games” so meaningful, and they should trump the scores at the end of the day.

It does not matter what role you play in the sport. Whether you are a fan, player, coach, reporter or employee, relationships begin and grow thanks to the game of baseball, and BB&T Ballpark is a great place to experience all of this.

Rarely does an individual connect with people in all walks of a field or a sport. One who accomplished this feat during the Dash’s 2014 season was Kevin Pearman.

“Big Kev” was an outstanding bat boy and clubhouse assistant at BB&T Ballpark. He always showed up with a smile on his face, and he was willing and able to contribute at a high level. His presence made everyone better.

Thanks to his stellar efforts this summer, Kevin earned the Dash’s BB&T Employee of the Year from the front office. The men in the clubhouse also wanted to recognize his work.

Before a critical game against Carolina on August 22, manager Tommy Thompson gathered the entire team together before summoning Big Kev to the middle of the clubhouse. Tommy discussed what he looks for in a Most Valuable Player–work ethic, determination, passion, intelligence, timeliness, flexibility, production.

Kevin fulfilled all of those qualities, and Tommy gave him the award he deserved.

Many people weighed in on Facebook (too many likes to count) and Twitter.

It was an honor working with Big Kev throughout the 2014 season, and I know many players felt the same. Big Kev could not have been more excited about both of his awards, and few deserve praise as much as him.

Stay tuned for our top three moments, which will be released next week. Have a great weekend.

– Brian

Dash Top 10 – #5: Anderson rescues Dash with homer

The 2014 season is in the books, and there were many great moments throughout the summer. Over the next few weeks, we will count down the Dash Top 10 of 2014.

Previous moments:
#10 – Shortest MiLB game in 2014
#9 – DeMichele’s five-hit, five-run effort
#8 – Buckner’s controversial walk-off blast
#7 – Narvaez’s two-homer Dash debut
#6 – Danish tosses six no-hit innings

Moment #5 – June 2
Anderson’s walk-off blast erases late Lynchburg surge

Tim Anderson registered the Dash's first walk-off homer of 2014 (Jody Stewart/W-S Dash).

Tim Anderson registered the Dash’s first walk-off homer of 2014 (Jody Stewart/W-S Dash).

Winston-Salem boasted the White Sox three most recent first-round picks during the 2014 season. Courtney Hawkins was the Dash veteran, with whom the city became very familiar. Carlos Rodon was the North Carolina kid who carried NC State to unprecedented heights.

Tim Anderson did not have a connection to the state, and he was not here for very long. However, Anderson had a month-long surge that rivaled anyone in the Carolina League, and it began with one majestic blast on the second day of June.

The Dash took a 4-2 lead into the ninth inning, but Lynchburg stunned the BB&T Ballpark with three runs to thrust Winston-Salem to the brink of a very tough loss.

With that one-run lead, the Hillcats summoned Ryan Kelly, he of 20 Triple-A appearances in his Minor League career, from the bullpen. Kelly had not given up a base runner in his first four efforts with the Hillcats, and he would ultimately finish the season as a key cog in the bullpen of Double-A Mississippi.

However, Zach Voight snapped that impressive run of 5.1 hitless frames with a single to lead off the ninth, setting the stage for Anderson. The Alabama kid sat in a 2-2 count before Kelly left a pitch up in the zone.

Before this mighty swing, Anderson was hitting .284 with two homers and 14 RBIs. From that swing until his promotion to Double-A Birmingham, the Alabama native was a .323 hitter with four homers and 17 RBIs.

A Dash player may not have hit a harder ball than this bomb to dead center field, and it ultimately prevented Winston-Salem from suffering a difficult defeat.

Our fourth-best moment is a tremendous one for the organization and the community. Stay tuned for that.

– Brian

Dash Top 10 – #6: Danish tosses six no-hit innings

The 2014 season is in the books, and there were many great moments throughout the summer. Over the next few weeks, we will count down the Dash Top 10 of 2014.

Previous moments:
#10 – Shortest MiLB game in 2014
#9 – DeMichele’s five-hit, five-run effort
#8 – Buckner’s controversial walk-off blast
#7 – Narvaez’s two-homer Dash debut

Moment #6 – August 9
Danish holds Hillcats hitless over six sensational innings

Tyler Danish posted some tremendous starts, but his best came in August at Lynchburg. (Jody Stewart/W-S Dash)

Tyler Danish posted some fantastic starts, but his best came in August against Lynchburg. (Jody Stewart/W-S Dash)

The Dash turned in some tremendous pitching performances this season, but no hurler was as consistently dominant as right-hander Tyler Danish. In his 25 starts between Winston-Salem and Low-A Kannapolis, the 19-year-old finished 2014 with a 2.08 earned run average, which was eighth-lowest among full-season Minor League qualifiers.

Within the top 15 in that category, Danish was not only the youngest of the group. He was at least a full year younger than everyone else. Few pitchers enjoyed more success than Danish, no matter the age.

Many of his outings down the stretch were stellar, but one stands above the rest. The Dash began their first road trip of August in sole possession of first place in the Southern Division’s second half standings, with Danish winning the final game of the previous homestand.

However, Winston-Salem dropped the first four of this six-game swing to Potomac and Lynchburg. The Dash’s playoff hopes were dwindling, and the club desperately needed a momentum shift. Danish did everything he could to offer exactly that.

The former second-round pick, who became Winston’s ace after the All-Star break, buzzed through six no-hit innings. After a long fly out by Will Skinner to end the first, Lynchburg never mustered a hard-hit ball against Danish, let alone a knock.

Because of Danish’s youth, the White Sox put him on a six-inning limit during the final two months of the season, which is why he did not have a chance to continue his no-hit bid. Danish still accomplished his personal goal.

“Around the fourth or fifth inning, I looked up there and saw that I had no hits,” Danish said. “I knew I could only go six, so that was my goal–go six and give up no hits.”

Unfortunately, Danish’s departure doomed the Dash on that night. Lynchburg rallied with back-to-back two-run frames en route to a 4-1 win over Winston-Salem. It was one of the more deflating losses of the 2014 season, but a big reason for that was because Danish was so dominant.

The Dash could not come up with a big hit in this contest, but one of the biggest hits of the 2014 season is up next on our Dash Top 10. Hope you can join us for #5 on Thursday!

– Brian

Dash Top 10 – #7: Narvaez’s two-homer debut

The 2014 season is in the books, and there were many great moments throughout the summer. Over the next few weeks, we will count down the Dash Top 10 of 2014.

Previous moments:
#10 – Shortest MiLB game in 2014
#9 – DeMichele’s five-hit, five-run effort
#8 – Buckner’s controversial walk-off blast

Moment #7 – June 19
Narvaez’s monster debut sparks strong second half start

Omar Narvaez began his Dash career with a two-homer game (Jody Stewart/W-S Dash).

Omar Narvaez began his Dash career with a two-homer effort June 19 (Jody Stewart/W-S Dash).

The first half was a tough one for Winston-Salem, who recorded its worst single-half record in the Dash era (30-39). However, most Minor Leagues give teams a second chance after the midway point, and the Carolina League falls in that category.

The records reset following the All-Star break, when the Dash would begin a 70-game battle with Carolina and Salem for the final Southern Division playoff spot.

The Dash’s roster also went through some changes during the three-day respite, another common trend in the Minors. Winston-Salem registered six roster moves, five of which involved players who had donned the Dash purple at some point.

The only exception was catcher Omar Narvaez, who jumped to the Dash’s roster after a solid first half in Low-A Kannapolis. Before this season, he was a member of the Rays organization.

Narvaez was, innocently enough, slotted seventh in the Dash’s order on that second half-opening Thursday at BB&T Ballpark, but he proved to be the catalyst in an emphatic Winston win over Salem.

In the second inning, Narvaez singled and scored in his first trip to the plate at the High-A level.

His second at-bat sparked the blowout. After hitting just two home runs in his first 260 Minor League games, Narvaez launched a three-run blast that gave Winston-Salem a 6-0 advantage in the third inning.

Sure enough, four innings later, the newcomer blasted a solo shot to cap the scoring in the Dash’s 12-4 shellacking of Salem in the Triad.

In his Minor League career, Narvaez has played 307 games, including his 40 with the Dash in the second half. He has only gone yard four times, with his lone two long balls of 2014 coming in his first Carolina League game.

After a frustrating, unlucky first half, the Dash could not have started half two any better.

Stay tuned for another great moment on Wednesday, when we delve into a fantastic pitching performance. We will talk to you then.

– Brian

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