Pilkington looking like future piece for Chicago White Sox's rotation

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Konnor Pilkington takes a step up in Chicago White Sox's farm system.

    Konnor Pilkington takes a step up in Chicago White Sox's farm system. Courtesy of Kannapolis Intimidators

  • White Sox GM Rick Hahn said the team's pitching woes are "disappointing." "Looking at the larger picture, we are aiming to put ourselves in a position where we can withstand things like this," he said.

    White Sox GM Rick Hahn said the team's pitching woes are "disappointing." "Looking at the larger picture, we are aiming to put ourselves in a position where we can withstand things like this," he said. AP File Photo/2016

 
 

Through Friday's play, Chicago White Sox starting pitchers had the highest ERA (6.30) in the major leagues.

Ervin Santana was released after posting a 9.45 ERA in 2 starts.

Another veteran right-hander -- Ivan Nova -- had the highest ERA (7.04) in baseball heading into Saturday's start against the Toronto Blue Jays. He did lower it to 6.29 by allowing only 1 run in 6 innings while picking up his second win.

Rotation mate Reynaldo Lopez was right behind Nova at 6.38 ERA.

To make matters worse, opening-day starter Carlos Rodon is likely facing season-ending Tommy John surgery. The Sox's top two starting-pitcher prospects Michael Kopech and Dane Dunning also are recovering from reconstructive elbow surgery.

"It's disappointing," general manager Rick Hahn said of the injury woes. "On the individual basis, you feel for that player and you are disappointed they won't be able to take that next step in their development for the period of time they are down.

"But looking at the larger picture, we are aiming to put ourselves in a position where we can withstand things like this.

"You feel bad for the individual. You try not to spend too much time feeling bad for yourself because there are other positives throughout this organization that will help hopefully make up for some of the setbacks along the way."

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Enter Konnor Pilkington.

The White Sox have drafted position players -- catcher Zack Collins, third baseman Jake Burger and second baseman Nick Madrigal -- on the first round for three straight years, and they likely are targeting Cal first baseman Andrew Vaughn with the No. 3 overall pick next month.

The Sox are in desperate need of pitching help, and Pilkington is emerging as a future starting candidate.

Drafted on the third round last June out of Mississippi State, Pilkington was voted White Sox minor-league pitcher of the month for April.

In 6 starts with low Class A Kannapolis this season, the 21-year-old lefty was 1-0 with a 1.62 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 33⅓ innings. On Saturday, Pilkington was promoted to high A Winston-Salem.

"I'm just trying to give our team a chance," he said. "I'm just grinding away trying to put strikes in the zone and letting them put it in play."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Last season, Pilkington helped Mississippi State advance to the College World Series, and he made his professional debut in mid-July. In 8 appearances (7 starts) with the AZL White Sox and Advanced Rookie Great Falls, Pilkington was a disappointing 0-1 with a 7.07 ERA.

"The off-season definitely did me well," he said. "I feel stronger than ever, I feel more flexible. I feel really refreshed. Going through spring training and minicamp and through the first month of regular season, I feel like I did on Day 1. There's no fatigue or anything. I'm just steady rolling."

Pilkington relied on a fastball and curve before this season, but he has added another pitch that has helped him turn the corner.

"During spring training we really worked on trying to develop a better changeup," he said. "I feel like I really have a handle on that now."

The White Sox have been promoting top prospects on a near daily basis in May, and Pilkington is the latest young talent to be moved up. If the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder can stay on his current course, it shouldn't be long before he reaches the major leagues.

"You can't look too far ahead; you can't dwell on the failure," Pilkington said. "You've got to take it day by day and keep a level head on your shoulders and stuff. These last 11-12 months have been nothing but awesome. Playing for the White Sox and everything, playing in Great Falls and playing down here in Kannapolis have been nothing but pure joy for me.

"It's something I've always dreamed of doing, getting to continue my baseball career. As far as that goes, it's just been really awesome."

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