Pioneer notes: Weems finding his way

White Sox sixth-rounder off to rousing start with Great Falls

Drafted out of Arizona, Avery Weems is 3-2 with a 1.98 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 36 1/3 innings for the Voyagers. (Bobby Stevens/

By Fritz Neighbor / Special to | August 28, 2019 10:30 AM

When Avery Weems went through three years of college undrafted and then had what he plainly felt was a rocky senior season, he feared his number wouldn't get called in 2019.

So when he went in the sixth round of the June Draft to the White Sox, he was a bit surprised.

"I was honestly quite worried," said Weems, one of the top left-handers in the Pioneer League. "I was worried I wouldn't get picked up. And I didn't have the greatest of [senior] years."

Flash forward a couple months and Weems, after dominating the Arizona League for four starts, has been a stalwart for the Great Falls Voyagers. In seven starts in the Rookie Advanced Pioneer League, he is 3-2 with a 1.98 ERA.

Video: Weems records ninth K

The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder can thank a solid repertoire of pitches and a scout who never lost track of him.

"The scout who drafted me -- John Kazanas -- he'd seen me since my senior year of high school," Weems said. "He's always liked me and always has talked to me. He just had a lot of faith in me and I was lucky enough to have that relationship."

He's also blessed with some big league stuff, according to Voyagers pitching coach John Ely.

"You look at the way the ball comes out of his hand -- it's live," said Ely, who pitched for the Dodgers for three seasons. "He spins the ball extremely well. He has two distinct, Major League-style breaking balls: a curve and slider that play, at all levels.

"His best fastball is a two-seamer that we're trying to get more depth out of -- but he throws the hell out of it."

After a spring in which he went 4-5 with a 7.15 ERA for the Arizona Wildcats -- he made 27 appearances, including eight starts -- the difference is striking. He had 47 strikeouts in 61 innings at Arizona; in Great Falls he's fanned 49 in 36 innings.

2019 MiLB include

"For a kid with his mix, it's unusual to see him strike out as many guys as he does," Ely said. "But that speaks to his ability to get ahead of hitters and how good his off-speed stuff is."

"I'm 90, 93 [fastball speed] on a good day," Weems said, smiling, "with two plus off-speed pitches. I get a lot of contact; I'm in the strike zone for the most part.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself in college and I never performed as well as I wanted to. But here -- you know, I'm here now and I'm enjoying it. It's a great experience and not a lot of people get to play baseball and live out their dream."

Weems looks at his senior season and feels inconsistent use -- he had one complete game and two saves for the Wildcats -- hurt more than helped. Whatever the case, taking the hill every fifth day has worked. On Aug. 21 he threw five innings of one-hit ball in a win over the Billings Mustangs, a Reds affiliate.

"Being on this five-day rotation, being on a routine every single day -- it's a lot better for me," Weems said. "It allows me to just compete a little bit better."

Ely believes that the lefty can get to the highest level.

"He's that type of talent," he said. "Avery is a special arm. He spots the ball really well. He just has this drive to him that's pretty impressive -- he's not satisfied with being in the Minor Leagues. He has that golden carrot he's chasing. I don't see a reason he wouldn't meet all those goals and more."

In brief

Dunne good: The Mustangs' 20-7 start to the second half has them on the cusp of the Pioneer League playoffs, and if you need an MVP, you could start with long reliever Ryan Dunne. The 2018 free agent signee is in his second year in Billings and is the team co-leader in wins. He threw 2 2/3 innings on Aug. 25 as Billings completed a four-game sweep of first-half champion Idaho Falls. For the season, Dunne is 5-3 with a 4.25 ERA and an eye-popping 43 strikeouts in 29-plus innings.

Mucked it up this time: The Missoula Osprey (D-backs) have the go-ahead to use Ogren-Allegiance Field for their final home stand of the season, Aug. 27-31. The outfield was chewed up by a Mumford and Sons concert that came right after a heavy rainstorm, and could not be made playable. The Osprey lost out on a six-game home stand; the Aug. 27 game was to be their first at home since Aug. 3.

Fritz Neighbor is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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