2013 Season in Review: Charlotte Knights

Erik Johnson - David Banks

Triple-A affiliate saw some good pitchers

As the White Sox lacked talent in the high minors, the Knights did not have very many impact players over the course of the season.  Those that were there were almost invariably either pitchers or transients (the Garcias).

The International League baselines: The average hitter batted .255/.328/.384.  The average pitcher walked 9.2% and struck out 20.0% of the batters faced.  The International League is a relatively neutral league. Knights Stadium suppresses hits but allows more home runs than league average.  The average player is 27.1 years old. The Knights pitchers were in line with that but the position players were the youngest group in the league at 25.7 years old.

I will not be reviewing players who spent significant time at the major league level.

Position Players

INF Marcus Semien led a pretty thin group.  He spent most of the season with Birmingham (105 games) until the White Sox promoted him to Triple-A August 1, where he played 32 games before a September call-up.  His overall MiLB season can only be described as a success.  Between the two levels, the then 22-year-old batted .284/.401/.479 with a 15.7% walk rate, which rather remarkably outpaced his 14.4% strikeout rate. The 2011 sixth rounder also added 24 steals in 29 attempts. He is unlikely to match those batting totals in the majors but he should be competent enough to have a decent contact rate, take some walks and potentially hit for some power.  You can pencil him in as the Opening Day third baseman, a defensive position he should be able to handle.  There are certainly still questions about whether he can be an everyday player but he's going to get his chance to answer those.  He is playing in the Arizona Fall League.

INF Carlos Sanchez had an extremely disappointing season, which saw Semien fly past him as the organization's top infield prospect.  I've speculated before that the 21-year-old may have played a bit too much baseball in 2012, going from Winston-Salem up to Charlotte during the minor league season, adding the instructional league and AFL on to that and then playing some in the Venezuelan Winter League.  Or the switch-hitter may simply have been another victim of the White Sox' position prospect bullet train, as he only had 133 plate appearances in Double-A.  Whatever the reason, .241/.293/.296 is just bad.  His 6.1% walk rate and 15.9% strikeout rate were in line with what he'd done in his MiLB career but the hard contact largely disappeared. The Venezuelan was more judicious on the basepaths, cutting down on his stolen base attempts but improving his stolen base rate to an acceptable 69.6% with 16 steals on 23 tries. He split time almost equally between shortstop and second base and is a plus defender at both but he may lack the arm strength to regularly handle shortstop. Another year in Charlotte beckons.

1B Andy Wilkins spent the second half of the season with Charlotte after beginning 2013 for the second time with Birmingham. The 24-year-old had been a disappointment in 2012 but ramped up his offense to .288/.386/.477 in his second try.  The left-handed hitter followed that up with .265/.312/.423 with the Knights. A better performance might have put him into the discussion for 2014 but his lack of a September call-up speaks to how the organization thinks about him.  He does take walks and he strikes out at a reasonable rate - if he were hitting for more power. The 2010 fifth rounder is beginning to look like a guy who is going to top out at Triple-A.  He's playing in the Venezuelan Winter League with Tiburones de La Guaira.

Pitchers

RHP Erik Johnson took the fast track to the majors but it appears to have worked out for him.  He began the season at Birmingham, got a mid-season promotion to Charlotte, spent a few weeks in July on the DL for a right groin strain but barely skipped a beat and got a September promotion.  The 23-year-old threw 142 MiLB innings, giving up just 100 hits, walking 40 and striking out 131.  That 23.6% strikeout rate is certainly going to drop but he should manage to stay close to that 7.2% walk rate as a major league starter.  I think the 2011 second rounder will be better served relying a bit less on his four-seam and using his sinker and cutter/slider more.  He likes to use the curve when he's ahead but major leaguers weren't as fooled by it.

LHP Charlie Leesman had an interesting journey in 2013. He began the year rehabbing the knee he injured in the 2012 International League playoffs.  The 2008 11th rounder then was claimed on waivers by the Rangers but refused the assignment and became a free agent. Then he re-signed with the White Sox. That ended up being a smart decision, as he pitched well enough to get a spot start in August and a September call-up.  In 88.1 MiLB innings, he gave up 90 hits, walked 41 and struck out 78.  That 10.4% walk rate isn't atypical for him and is part of the reason he won't make it as a starter.  The other reason is that he's going to struggle to get righties out. He's basically a two pitch pitcher, four seam and curve. While he didn't show it in the majors, he should be adequate as a LOOGY-type. He'll get some added work in the AFL to makeup for the innings he missed at the start of the season.

RHP Daniel Webb began the year in Winston-Salem and ended it in Chicago.  The 24-year-old is the typical fastball/slider reliever, though he does throw both a four-seam and two-seam.  As he showed in the majors, he prefers his slider when he gets ahead. Across his three MiLB stops, Webb threw 62.2 innings in 42 games, giving up 45 hits, walking 27 and striking out 78.  He had some control issues at Charlotte but had those ironed out by late August. He's certainly in the bullpen mix for 2014 and has the potential to be a high-leverage guy.

RHP Jake Petricka transitioned to reliever this season and it appears to have adequately solved a lot of his issues, namely repeating his delivery, control and lack of secondary pitches.  Relying almost entirely on a sinker/slider combination, the 25-year-old threw 54.2 MiLB innings in 31 games, giving up 45 hits walking 25 and striking out 58. If he continues to walk 11%+ of batters, he's probably not going to cut it in high-leverage situations but he strikes out enough guys to be a decent major league reliever regardless. The 2010 second rounder will certainly be given consideration for the 2014 bullpen but he could use a bit more seasoning in the minors.

RHP Simon Castro also transitioned to reliever but he began the season as a starter.  Moving into a relief role in mid-June appeared to agree with him and he was one of the first prospects to get a call-up to Chicago in July. Showing a solid sinker/slider combo, the Dominican performed well but got sent down to make room for Jake Peavy.  And things kind of fell apart after that. The 25-year-old was erratic, to put it mildly.  He ended up with 92.2 MiLB innings over 27 games (12 starts), giving up 98 hits, walking 33 and striking out 82.  Those peripherals certainly aren't bad - 20.5% strikeout rate and 8.3% walk rate - but he would be excellent in one outing and then awful in the next.  If he could stay away from the extremes (at least on the bad end), he'd be a solid candidate for the 2014 bullpen.  Instead, his candidacy may rest more on the fact that he doesn't have any options remaining.

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