Chicago White Sox Jason Bilous Jersey

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While Kannapolis and the rookie leagues carried six right-handed starters among the organization’s Top 30 overall prospects, they are still at least two or three years away from reaching the majors. In the meantime, Charlotte and Birmingham finished the year with four righty starters of their own among the organization’s Top 30 prospects — and they’re much closer to being major league ready.

Below are the right-handed starters that finished the season at Double-A Birmingham.

Ages below are as of April 1, 2022

Birmingham Barons
Jason Bilous
185 pounds
Age: 24
2020 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 51
2021 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 42

Bilous was ranked among the Top 200 draft prospects by MLB Pipeline prior to the 2018 draft, but slipped to the 13th round due to concerns about his control. His fastball was graded 65, slider 55, changeup 50 and control 40 by MLB Pipeline at the time.

In his junior season with Coastal Carolina, Bilous fanned a whopping 103 hitters but walked an incredibly-high 66; his 7.13 BB/9 rate in 2018 for the Chanticleers was nearly identical to his overall college rate of 7.12. Upon being drafted, he was immediately inserted into the Great Falls rotation, where he suffered through a 7.81 ERA and 1.95 WHIP, with 46 hits (.324 OBA) and 24 walks (5.54 BB/9) while striking out 31 (7.15 K/9) in 39 innings.

The 2019 season was kinder to Bilous, as his ERA and WHIP improved to 3.70 and 1.39 in his 31 appearances (17 starts) spanning 104 2⁄3 innings for Kannapolis. Opponents hit just .220 against Bilous that year, while he improved his strikeout rate to 9.72 K/9. His walk rate did improve a bit, but was still way too high at 5.25 BB/9.

After the year layoff in 2020 due to the pandemic, Bilous began the 2021 season with Winston-Salem and got off to a great three-game start. In 14 2⁄3 innings for the Dash, he posted a 2.45 ERA and 0.89 WHIP as he surrendered just nine hits (.208 OBA) and two walks (1.23 BB/9) while striking out 26 (15.95 K/9)!

Obviously, the organization was cognizant of those results and immediately promoted him to Birmingham. Against competition roughly 18 months older, Bilous struggled in 17 starts with a 6.51 ERA and 1.55 WHIP. During his 65 innings for the Barons, he relinquished 71 hits (.278 OBA) and 30 walks (4.15 BB/9) while fanning 80 (11.08 K/9). His numbers got progressively worse in the final months, as he posted a bleak 10.02 ERA and 2.32 during his final six starts.

Nevertheless, he was one of just two prospects (joining reliever Bennett Sousa) protected from the Rule 5 draft and added to the 40-man roster this past November.

While Bilous did pitch in the upper-90s in the Cape Cod League in short stints back in 2016, his heater now typically runs 92-95 mph. His low-80s slider offers solid movement and speed variance with his fastball, and is considered a plus pitch by MLB Pipeline. Also according to that site, Bilous’ repertoire includes a changeup that neutralizes lefties, and also a curve. MLB Pipeline grades his heater and slider at 55, while his curve and change are graded at 50. As expected, they grade his biggest weakness as control with a 45, in part caused by a long arm action in the back of his delivery that hampers him from repeating his release point and keeping his mechanics in sync.

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When the White Sox added Bilous to the 40-man roster, they clearly overlooked his ERA and WHIP while focusing on his soaring strikeout numbers and improved control numbers. It is believed that Bilous’ heater can tick up 2-3 mph in shorter spurts when he’s not worrying about going deeper into games.

Thus, beginning in 2022, he’s likely to be a higher-leverage reliever with either Birmingham or Charlotte. Bilous is currently ranked 18th among all White Sox prospects according to MLB Pipeline.

Emilio Vargas
220 pounds
Age: 25
2021 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 35

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Vargas, signed as a 16-year-old from the Dominican Republic by the Arizona Diamondbacks, was a slow riser in that organization, although performing well at every stop. Finally, in November 2018, he was added to their 40-man roster in order to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. That year, combined with High-A Visalia and Double-A Jackson, Vargas posted a 2.88 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in 26 starts totaling 143 2⁄3 innings. In that span, he ceded just 123 hits (.229 OBA) and 49 walks (3.07 BB/9) while striking out 170 (10.65 K/9).

Limited to 17 starts for Jackson in 2019 due to injury, Vargas posted a respectable 3.78 ERA and 1.13 WHIP over 85 2⁄3 innings as he allowed 74 hits (.231 OBA) and 23 free passes (2.96 BB/9) while fanning 70 (7.35 K/9). He was promoted to Triple-A Reno on March 6, 2020 but never pitched because of the pandemic.

Perhaps alarmed because of his lower strikeout rate from the year before, and the need to protect certain prospects from that year’s Rule 5 draft, Vargas was placed on waivers in the hopes of re-adding him back onto the roster without 40-man limitations.

“Not so fast!” cried Rick Hahn. The White Sox claimed Vargas off of waivers on Nov. 20, 2020 and actually tried the same thing (successfully) when designating him for assignment on February 1 of this year — essentially clearing a spot on their own 40-man roster.

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Vargas then produced arguably the best season of any righthander who pitched in a full-season league in the Sox system. In 21 games (15 starts) totaling 83 2⁄3 innings for Birmingham, Vargas posted a 2.90 ERA and 1.16 WHIP by relinquishing just 69 hits (.225 OBA) and 28 walks (3.01 BB/9) while fanning 99 (10.65 K/9). The biggest concern with Vargas’ results is that he posted a 1.86 at spacious Regions Field while producing a mediocre 4.75 ERA in road games. This could become an issue when pitching at the hitter-friendly Truist Field in Charlotte in 2022.

According to Prospects Live, Vargas features a crafty, three-pitch repertoire that includes a 91-92 mph heater that plays a few ticks higher because lives primarily up in the zone; this is given a 50 grade. Vargas’ slider provides a solid weapon versus righties, and often produces weak contact from his opponents. This pitch, along with a changeup with good vertical drop, are both graded 50 as well. The site gives him a 50 for control and 40 for command. However, since Vargas has consistently produced solid OBA numbers without elite stuff, I’d upgrade the command to a 45 or 50.

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