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2018 Kannapolis Intimidators Preview

Low A ball teams always end the year with increased talent, but this year’s Intimidators are already tough — a testament to the depth of the White Sox system

After Jake Burger’s Achilles injury, there are no household names left on the Intimidators to begin this season. However, they feature five prospects in MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 White Sox prospects, scattered across each position group.

There will be very few promotions from Kannapolis to Winston-Salem, because this is the first full professional season for most of the Intimidators. The majority of the group will be together until 2018’s draft picks arrive, pushing for playing time. Corey Zangair, Luis Curbelo, and Jose Colina could press for reps at Kanny as well, but their seasons are delayed, and they will start at Great Falls in June.

Rotation

The starting rotation is an extremely inexperienced group. Lincoln Henzman, Kade McClure, John Parke and Parker Rigler were all chosen in the 2017 draft and are entering their first full pro season. Kyle Von Ruden was pitching for the Windy City ThunderBolts of the independent Frontier League last season, before the Sox signed him, and will be considered for the rotation. Yosmer Solórzano was a starter for the entire season at Kannapolis in 2017, but did not perform well.

Henzman is one of MLB Pipeline’s top White Sox prospects, coming in at No. 28. He was chosen in the fourth round of the 2017 amateur draft, and made his way to Great Falls later in the year. He only pitched in 27 innings, but he ended with a 4.36 FIP. He had 3.00 BB/9 and only 5.33 K/9. Henzman’s stats represent a small sample size, like most of these prospects, have but they still need improvement. In Henzman’s first start of the 2018 season both numbers looked better, as in 5 23 innings he allowed two runs, with four strikeouts and only one walk.

Bullpen

Like the rotation, the bullpen is also inexperienced. If an injury occurs to one of the starters, Luis Ledo, Yelmsion Peralta or Aron McRee should be the first to move up to the rotation. Ledo and Peralta were teenage international signees from the Dominican Republic. Peralta has been stateside since 2014, Ledo since 2016. McRee was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2016. Tyler Johnson and Blake Battenfield were taken in the 2017 draft. Jake Elliott was a 15th round pick in 2016. Kevin Escorcia was also an international signee and has been stateside since 2015.

Johnson is also an MLB Pipeline top Sox prospect, at No. 27, and like any other young relief pitcher prospect, he walks too many batters. In his 15 23 innings at Kannapolis after he was drafted, he had a 6.9 BB/9. This can be cleaned up with more experience, and hopefully his control comes around in 2018. He also flashed big strikeout potential, with a 12.1 K/9. Even with the high walk rate, Johnson had a FIP of 3.14.

Catchers

With catchers, promotions are slow and hard to come by once full-season minor league baseball starts. Michael Hickman was taken in the 2016 draft and is listed as a catcher, but has played more games at first base. Carlos Perez has only played 62 games in the United States since he arrived in 2016. Evan Skoug was chosen in the 2017 draft, and is the third-best catching prospect the Sox have.

Skoug is rated as the No. 24 Sox prospect per MLB Pipeline and was picked in the seventh round last season. Like the other top catching prospects, Zack Collins and Seby Zavala, he is an offensive catcher with power potential. Skoug only played In 25 games last season, and did not show well in them. His batting average was .233, and his whiff woes were fierce, with a strikeout percentage over 35%. But it was a very small sample, so any judgment should be reserved until he gets more at-bats.

Corner Infielders

With Burger out for the season, the corner infield position lacks star power. Johan Cruz is listed as a shortstop, but started the first two games of 2018 at third base. Justin Yurchak has started at first, but can also play third. Anthony Villa would provide depth at both positions, as he split his starts between corners in 2017.

Yurchak, the No. 30 prospect in the Sox farm system according to MLB Pipeline, will try to fill Burger’s shoes. He was chosen in the 12th round of last year’s draft, and crushed pitching in Great Falls, slashing .345/.448/.520. He walked (43 times) more than he struck out (33). It was a big offensive season for Yurchak, and thus he is one of the few Intimidators who could see a promotion.

Middle Infielders

The Kannapolis middle infield is the weakest on the team in terms of prospect potential. Both Tate Blackman and Laz Rivera were chosen in the 2017 draft. Blackman was chosen in the 13th round, and does have promise. He slashed .245/.359/.411 in 2017, but was 5-for-8 to start 2018. Blackman had difficulty on the field last year, with 13 errors in 45 games at second base. The Sox lack a Top 30 prospect, but with the middle infield in the majors apparently set for several years, the franchise has been looking to add at other positions.

Outfielders

The outfield in Kannapolis is a good bet to stay the course until draftees start joining the Sox organization after the draft. High-A Winston-Salem is stacked in the outfield, and none of the outfielders in Kannapolis are going to take away at-bats from Blake Rutherford, Luis Robert, Alex Call, or Luis Alexander Basabe. Intimidators outfielders Nolan Brown, Craig Dedelow, Tyler Frost, and Luis Gonzalez each are in their second year of professional baseball.

Gonzalez was a third round pick in the 2017 draft and is listed as the No. 19 Sox prospect on MLB.com. The lefty’s best qualities are in the field, according to MLB Pipeline, but he was able to get on base 35% of the time last year. He does not have a lot of power, so his ceiling should be as a fourth outfielder on a major league team. He would need to improve his batting average from the .245 he hit last season to earn a promotion.

Kannapolis will only see new players because of injury until the amateur draft. Great Falls does not start their season until mid-June, so there is not any competition from the lower levels. These players will get innings and at-bats, for better or worse.