The Charlotte Knights finished the year with a 64-75 record but they also ended with the best attendance in all of minor league baseball, so at least the Chicago White Sox’s Triple-A team is filling the joint.
The Knights did not have a productive season in the win column, but they sent a multitude of prospects to the majors. Some turned out better than others, but the Knights were well-represented in Chicago.
Just for the sheer number of prospects who went from Charlotte to the majors or ended the year in Charlotte, mostly familiar names will be examined here, but thanks to whitesoxman20051917’s Under the Radar analysis and other stellar pieces on minor leaguers, he has already checked some players off of the proverbial box:
- Caleb Frare was the first, after he was acquired from the New York Yankees. He finished the year with the Knights with a 2.23 FIP, and has appeared in three games for the White Sox so far.
- Ryan Burr also got a look. He started in Birmingham this season, and pitched in only seven games for Charlotte before his promotion. His FIP in AA was 3.88, and it dropped to 2.13 in AAA. So far in Chicago, he has pitched 4 2⁄3 innings.
- Jose Rondon was the final Knight profiled in Under the Radar (so far). His power is undeniably improved this season. He has 22 total home runs between AAA (18) and MLB (four). Rondón does have a high strikeout total, which is uncharacteristic for him, but then, so is hitting 22 home runs in a season. It seems like Rondón is selling out for more power, and it is working.
Without further ado, it is time to take a look back the rest of the prospect-heavy Charlotte Knights.
Might as well start with the top prospect in the White Sox organization. After missing time at the beginning of the season due to injury, Eloy started out in AA, probably wrongly, but we all know why now. In his 53 games in Birmingham, Jiménez left with a 157 wRC+, along with a new career low K-percentage at 17.1%. After appearing in the AA All-Star game, Jiménez was called up to Charlotte, where he truly raked. He had a wRC+ of 179 and got on base in almost 40% of his at-bats. Jiménez even drastically lowered his career-low K-percentage to a brand-new low of 13.2%. His ISO of .242 shows just how dominant a hitter he is. Jiménez is hitting more fly balls and line drives than his career normal. His 19% HR/FB rate is not even a career high, and yet he hit 12 home runs in just 55 games. That is a sustainable mark, and it should still be when he is in Chicago next season.
Michael Kopech, Wicked tailing 93mph Fastball. pic.twitter.com/b0PZe0hP6E— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 6, 2018
Unlike Jimenez, Michael Kopech got the call to the majors this season. After a phenomenal April, Kopech struggled through the middle months. He had mostly good starts, but always with too many walks. From July 14-on, something changed: Kopech stopped walking people. In his last 44 innings in Charlotte, Kopech had a 0.82 BB/9 with 14.75 strikeouts per walk. His control and command were back, and it had continued with the White Sox, even after his blip of a final start. Thanks to the weather, Sox fans have not been able to get many full looks at Kopech, and now thanks to a UCL injury, we have to wait even longer. Kopech looked good, he looked ready — but now fans need to be patient.
Did you see Ian Hamilton’s first career strikeout? Check out the movement and then the reaction from the Tigers Victor Reyes. pic.twitter.com/I6G4luwgdZ— Chuck Garfien (@ChuckGarfien) September 4, 2018
Hamilton has risen through the ranks very quickly after being taken in the 11th round in 2016. He also started the year in AA, but eventually made to the South Side a week ago. Hamilton has converted 22 of his 26 save chances in AA and AAA, and looked dominant in them. In Charlotte alone, Hamilton had a K/9 of 9.57 and BB/9 at 1.37, which helped him earn a 2.76 FIP. So far in the majors, Hamilton has only used two pitches, a fastball and slider, which have been exceptional so far. The fastball is 97-98 mph and the slider is at 89 on average. He was not an overt ground ball pitcher, but Hamilton has only allowed a fly ball in a quarter of the batted balls let up. Nick Hostetler brings up Ian up in conversation as much as he can, and a future as a closer is not out of the question.
Jordan Stephens spots a hook to end a 1-2-3 1st inning. He was 90-91 per the Charlotte stadium gun, which ran a little cold last year pic.twitter.com/eGvrfbv8dH— James Fegan (@JRFegan) May 21, 2018
Stephens will be 26 in a few days, and in 2018 he has proven he can handle a large minor league pitching workload without much trouble. Jordan also spent time in AA before a promotion to Charlotte. In 21 starts with the Knights, Stephens saw a small dip in strikeouts, and his walks did increase a couple ticks, to 3.53 BB/9. That’s not great, but he was productive enough. Stephens did allow more home runs than normal, but his HR/FB rate was higher than it had been in AA. He ended his year in Charlotte with a 4.19 FIP after struggling in the final month. Before his last start (September 3), where he threw six innings, the last time Stephens lasted six innings was July 3, when he had a 3.43 FIP. Hopefully, Stephens is still more the pitcher he was for the first four months, and not the last two.
Seby Zavala doubles down the LF line, Eloy Jimenez stopped at 3B after his walk... pic.twitter.com/02h4x5S1Po— Jonathan Lee (@followmefor3) June 30, 2018
Another AA promotion, Seby Zavala saw time at catcher in AAA this season. Unfortunately, after his promotion, Zavala’s offense took a hit. He ends the year with a 71 wRC+, the first time he has ever had a wRC+ under 100. Now, it was an injury-riddled time for Zavala in Charlotte, so there is a reason for his extended slump. However, in the last month, Zavala was only a touch better in terms of wRC+, at 75. He also stopped walking (just 2.8% of his at-bats). It seems Zavala was simply swinging more often. Since pitching at AAA is many times filled with a MLB team’s No. 6-8 starters, it may be that Zavala just cannot handle more developed breaking pitches yet — but that is just a guess. Whatever the case is, Zavala seems to be the most ready behind the plate of any White Sox catcher in the system — even some who are already in the majors.
Spencer Adams is a little bit of an enigma. His base stats do not look overly good, beyond his ERA (3.19). The advanced stats look even worse, with a 5.14 FIP and a 5.01 xFIP, but still, he had a 3.19 ERA. Adams’ strikeouts have fallen to a career low, and his walks were at a career high in Charlotte. Adams has also not allowed many ground balls (41.5%), and a 46.4% pull rate with that low of a ground ball rate indicates quite a lot of hard contact. However, Adams had an 83.2% LOB, and his HR/FB rate was the lowest since his time in AA in 2016. He should be a future No. 3 or 4 starter, as he will eat up innings, no matter what. In his 15 starts in AAA, Adams went at least six innings 13 times.
Next season should be the opposite of what we saw in 2018 in Charlotte: The team should be much better to begin the season, and then some talent should start to reduce once the season progresses and players are called up to the big club. And those ringers in Winston-Salem could easily find themselves in Charlotte sooner than later.