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Kannapolis Intimidators Season Recap

After juggling talented personnel all season long, this scrappy crew came through at the final hour to earn a postseason berth

Shift on the Fly: The I’s lost a lot of talent at midseason, but regrouped and made the playoffs for the second year in a row.
Kannapolis Intimidators

Kannapolis had a good overall season, at 74-63. After they fell apart down the stretch to end the first half, the I’s had enough mettle to make the playoffs on the last day of the second half.

If you noticed from the Winston-Salem recaps, the I’s lost much of their top talent after the All-Star break. Fortunately, it wasn’t long before, the 2018 draft pick reinforcements arrived, pushing Kannapolis into the playoffs for the second straight year under Justin Jirschele.

Steele Walker

As we get into more rookies, it is best to note that pre-draft scouting reports still apply to these players. After next season, we can start to focus on professional results but right now, the most important goal for players at this level is to get through a season healthy. If they have a good half, that can raise their stature a little, but if they are unproductive, like second-rounder Steele Walker was, you cannot peg him or any other pick down.

Walks started in Arizona and played his last 31 games with Kannapolis, and his promotion did not end well. He finished to a wRC+ at 59 after a slash line of .186/.246/.310 with the I’s. Walker did show some power, with three of his five home runs at Low-A, but it was not enough to salvage his tenure there.

Still, there were some positives in play. Walker hit more fly balls than grounders. Coupling a pull percentage oft 51.2% with a majority of batted balls in the air equals good contact. A .214 BABIP would indicate Walker was unlucky, but almost 25% of his fly balls were in the infield. It seems that Walker was just not ready for the type of pitching he faced as a professional compared to college. But that’s normal, even for a second round pick.

Luis Curbelo

Curbelo is the other of the two MLB Pipeline White Sox Top 30 prospects in Kannapolis. The infielders played in 83 games, but still has not been able to put together a consistently good season. Curbelo is still behind in pro experience, despite being taken out of high school in 2016. He missed most of last season with an injury as well, but scouts still love what his bat can become.

That’s because scouts see plus-power in Curbelo, it just has not translated to professional baseball yet. He only had a .101 ISO, and walked only 5.2% of the time. Curbelo did strike out out in a quarter of his plate appearances, so at least he has one true outcome under his belt. But really, the true problem seems to be his approach at the plate, possibly swing mechanics. A 35.4% fly ball rate is not a good indicator of potential power, and a 3.8% HR/FB rate shows that Curbelo could not barrel up the ball enough. Along with a 39.6% opposite field rate, which is a few ticks short of his pull percentage, Curbelo needs to get used to professional pitching. He’s in the same boat as Walker, but in Curbelo’s case, next year will be a big year to prove he can be a major leaguer.

Kade McClure

McClure was a part of the early pitching success of the I’s before he injured his knee. The 2017 sixth-rounder was only able to pitch 41 23 innings, but was very effective. In the seven starts prior to his injury, McClure averaged just less than six innings per start. His K/9 was 9.22 and his walks were a little high at 3.07 BB/9. In the short sample, McClure showed he was primarily a ground ball pitcher (51.7%), which does excuse the 48% pull percentage, to a point. The fly balls were not all that successful, either, as 36.1% of them were contained to the infield. McClure spent his first season as a reliever, and with more strikeouts and fewer walks it seems he should fit somewhere into the White Sox’s future plans. Hopefully, McClure will be healthy by spring.

Bennett Sousa

Nick Madrigal made the biggest jump in levels this season, but Sousa was one of the draft picks that moved up the quickest. The 10th-rounder only spent nine games in Great Falls before his promotion to Kannapolis. With the Voyagers, Sousa was used primarily as a closer, and he did well, saving all four of his chances. His 1.57 FIP was helped by a 12.46 K/9, and he did not issue a walk. It was time for a jump, and Sousa didn’t miss a beat.

The probable future LOOGY did issue a walk (finally), but his base on balls were at a manageable rate of 2.82 BB/9. The strikeouts also fell to 9.67 K/9, but ground balls were consistent between the two levels (65.4%). That means Sousa’s .357 BABIP was truly bad-luck and the .250 batting average against should go down. Now, 65.4% ground balls is a ton, and probably unsustainable, but it is a great sign that Sousa should be a piece of the future White Sox bullpen. If his success continues to next season, Sousa can be a candidate to lose the LOOGY title, but just to let you know, Sousa only allowed three hits and no runs to lefties the entire season.

Andrew Perez

Perez is another LOOGY the White Sox targeted in the Rounds 8-10, and he is one of the younger ones, turning 22 next season. Unlike Sousa, Perez was used more as a complimentary bullpen arm instead of a closer, but he was still effective.

He spent just four games in Great Falls before his promotion the I’s. He pitched in 16 games in Kannapolis, spanning 25 innings, so he seems to be able to relieve for extended stretches in games. The K/9 is about average, at 8.64, the walks in Kannapolis were too high at 4.68 BB/9, but his .226 batting average against was able to salvage his FIP (3.71). Though his ground balls allowed were less than 40%, a pull percentage of 23.2% and oppo percentage at 43.5% is really fantastic. It indicates that hitters were not able to read Perez’s pitches well, at least when they were in the strike zone. However, unlike Sousa, Perez does seem to be more of a LOOGY at this point, as he had a 0.96 ERA against lefties and 4.02 ERA against righthanders with the I’s.

Honorable Mentions: Ian Dawkins, Corey Zangari, and Justin Yurchak