Thursday, February 22, 2024

White Sox Add Kenyan Middleton and Erik Gonzalez


The White Sox have added some potential depth pieces to minor-league contracts. On Monday, the team added right-handed pitcher Kenyan Middleton to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training. Early last week, they also added former Pirates infielder Erik Gonzalez to a minor league deal. 

Kenyan Middleton 

Kenyan Middleton is the more intriguing acquisition between the two. The 29-year-old throws hard, averaging over 95 mph on his fastball. His fastball velocity and spin rate ranked in the top 25 percent of MLB pitchers, according to Statcast. 

The Angels drafted Middleton in the third round of the 2013 Amateur Draft out of Lane Community College (Eugene, OR). He made his MLB debut in 2017. The early returns were positive. In 64 appearances (58.1 innings), Middleton posted a 3.86 ERA and averaged a career-high 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings.

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In 2018, he established himself as a quality relief option out of the Angels bullpen. In his first 16 games, he had a 2.04 ERA with a 1.302 WHIP. Unfortunately, his 2018 campaign was cut short due to Tommy John surgery midway through the year. The surgery kept him out of commission for over a year. 

Middleton returned to the mound in 2019 and had a 1.17 ERA in 7.2 innings of work. However, he struggled to refind his presurgery form the following season. The righty got lit up to the tune of a 5.25 ERA, with opponents hitting .273 off him. The Angels had seen enough and non-tendered him that offseason. 

The Seattle Mariners decided to take a flier on him, but their gamble did not pay off. Middleton posted a 4.94 ERA in 32 appearances in 2021. During the offseason, he settled for a minor league deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks. 

He tossed 17 innings in Triple-A Reno, putting up a 2.12 ERA which was enough to earn him a promotion to the big league club. However, his struggles continued once he reached Arizona. Middleton had a 5.29 ERA in 18 games. This came despite the fact that he reduced his walk rate to 4.3% after being much higher in previous seasons. His struggles resulted from lackluster strikeout and ground ball rates. Opponents also had a hard-hit percentage of 38 and tagged him for five home runs, matching his total from the four previous seasons combined.

The Diamondback’s front office had seen enough and cut ties with him in November, making him a free agent again. The White Sox decided to pick him up off the scrap heap with the hopes that Ethan Katz can rekindle some of his pre-surgery stuff. If he does not make the roster, he cannot be optioned back to Triple-A without his consent due to his five years of service time. 

Erik Gonzalez 

Meanwhile, Gonzalez spent the majority of his 2022 season with the Triple-A Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp. He performed well, slashing .284/.336/.373 slash and showing some versatility in the field. He appeared in all four infield positions. However, only one of those innings was at first base. 

The 31-year-old got 41 appearances with the big league club with not much to show for it. Gonzalez posted a .189/.268/.216 slash line with just one extra-base hit coming in the form of a double. 

Gonzalez entered the league in 2016, playing 21 games with Cleveland. He recorded his first five MLB hits, drew a walk, and caught stealing in his only attempt. The following season he got 115 at-bats in 60 games, hitting .255 with four home runs and 11 RBIs. 

The Indians liked what they saw and gave him a more prominent role in 2018. He played a career-high 81 games and hit .265/.301/.375 with just 11 extra-base hits. During that stretch, he started 30 games, with 15 coming at second base, seven at third base, five at shortstop, and three at first base. 

He then spent three seasons in Pittsburgh, hitting .236 with five home runs and just 27 RBIs during that span. He did play in 51 of the Pirate’s 60 regular season games in 2020 but never saw more than 71 games in a single season despite being on a rebuilding Pittsburgh squad. He tends to chase a lot of pitches and has a high strikeout rate. His career K% is 24.5 percent, which is 2.4 percent higher than the MLB average. 

His offense provides the White Sox little to no value, and he will be a long shot to make the team. Gonzalez’s best bet to crack the roster is with his glove. He has produced a plus DRS mark at all four infield spots and plus OAA marks at both shortstop and third base. 

Baseball Savant has his arm strength listed as slightly above average, and his OAA in 2021 ranked in the 84th percentile. Even with that versatility, it is hard to see him being better than Leury Garcia. 

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