For the first time since 2006 - and the heady days of Jerry Owens and Andy Gonzalez, when the world trembled at the sound of their slap hitting - the Knights made the playoffs. At the Triple-A level, that usually means you have a team populated with 30 year old ringers and AAAA types. And this club was no exception, often sending out a lineup half-filled with comparative geriatrics.
Those aren't the players I'll be reviewing. Nor will I (generally) discuss those who spent significant time with the major league club, as I assume the readers' familiarity with those players. Instead, this will focus on those players you might be seeing in 2013 and beyond.
I'll start with the position players. C Josh Phegley is the only one of note who spent the entire season with Charlotte. He started out very hot, putting up a near 1.000 OPS over the first month, which gave some hope that the alleged offense-first catcher had finally turned the corner. The next three months threw cold water on that notion as the 24 year old muddled below a .550 OPS. He managed to bring his season line to an almost respectable .266/.306/.373 with a good last month, propelled mostly by hitting five of his six total home runs during that time, and he did continue hitting well in the playoffs. This probably gives some people hope again; we'll see if it's of the false variety. He was less sieve-like on defense, and he continues to throw out runners at an almost 50% clip, but it's still difficult to see him as a back-up catcher without better offense.Other than Phegley, it's mostly players who played bit parts after late season call-ups. OF Jared Mitchell got the most playing time, with 141 regular season plate appearances, which weren't impressive: .231/.329/.364. Of course, he brought along his eye-popping strikeout rates, this time giving us a 37%.
INF Tyler Saladino, despite an unimpressive performance for Birmingham, got a promotion in late July. But he was quickly back with Birmingham after it became obvious that he was in over his head: .224/.296/.265 in 55 plate appearances.
INF Carlos Sanchez and CF Trayce Thompson both spent the bulk of their seasons with Winston-Salem before promotions to Birmingham. They also both made short work of Double-A and found themselves with Charlotte at the very end of the season so that they could get additional games and playoff experience. They struggled in a handful of games but that's nothing about which to be concerned. Both will play in the Arizona Fall League.
One experienced player should be mentioned and that's Brent Morel. Everyone is familiar with his ineptitude at the major league level, as well as his back problems. After supposedly overcoming that injury, the White Sox sent him to Charlotte in the hopes of him regaining some form. It didn't work out that way. In 132 regular season plate appearances, he batted an unsightly .194/.242/.250. Contrast that with his 324 plate appearances in 2010: .320/.348/.503. While he did pick things up significantly during the playoffs, his 2012 season probably has written him out of the White Sox' future plans.
Charlotte's pitching staff largely found its way to the major league staff at various points in the season. One who didn't was LHP Charlie Leesman, who spent the entire season in the Knights' starting rotation. The 2008 11th round pick has slowly worked his way up the ladder, hindered by a lack of control. He made some strides compared to his 2011 season in Birmingham, reducing his walk rate from 4.9 to 3.5 per nine innings, his hit batsmen from 13 to 5 and his wild pitches from 16 to 5. Still, the 25 year may not quite have the stuff to make it in a major league rotation. His four seam fastball only occasionally gets to 90 MPH, which doesn't help his secondary offerings. The addition of a cut fastball has given him a weapon against righties and his plus changeup has a nice 13 MPH separation from his four seamer. However, he hasn't really found a breaking ball that works for him. He may have been in line for a September call up but he injured his knee in the playoffs. Leesman has always intrigued me and I'm interested in seeing how he does competing for a roster spot in 2013. On the season: 135 IP, 129 H, 52 BB, 103 K.
RHP Simon Castro made five starts for the Knights and got himself hit around quite a bit, perhaps hindered by one of his injuries: 25 IP, 32 H, 6 BB, 16 K.